MANILA — President Corazon Aquino sent her closest adviser into the Philippine Congress on Tuesday to defend her government's performance during the bloody Aug. 28 abortive coup and to call on her supporters "to close ranks" to prevent a more potent attempt in the future.
Instead, Executive Secretary Joker Arroyo spent three hours on the floor of the House of Representatives attacking virtually every sector that supported Aquino during the gravest threat to her 18-month rule, a performance that most analysts said revealed the deep disarray and divisions in Aquino's ruling political coalition left by the coup attempt.
'Coups Are Coups'
In his rambling harangue, Arroyo likened the government's loyal armed forces spokesman, Col. Honesto Isleta, to Hitler's propagandist, Joseph Goebbels. He accused three of the country's most influential and progressive business leaders of "treason of the highest order." And he charged that Salvador Laurel, Aquino's vice president and foreign minister, is "fomenting dissension" among loyalist soldiers by polling their opinions on the government's performance.
Arroyo prefaced his impromptu speech to the House, the first time that a member of Aquino's Cabinet has answered questions in the newly formed legislature, by saying, "We have to close ranks because. . . coups are coups. . . . You don't even know who are your enemies."
And Arroyo, who wields vast power in a position that the Filipinos have nicknamed the "little president," did praise Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, the armed forces chief, as "a very professional soldier; a very loyal man to the president and the constitution, whose loyalty has been proven over and over again."
But Arroyo then leveled harsh attacks at the three top business leaders, all of whom have been principal backers of Aquino since she decided in 1985 to run for president against Ferdinand E. Marcos.
All three have called for Arroyo's resignation in the days after the failed coup, charging that Arroyo directly interfered in the government's handling of the revolt and that he has been an impediment to economic development under Aquino.
Specifically, Arroyo alleged that Cesar Buenaventura, chairman of Philippine Shell Petroleum Corp., Raul Concepcion, the twin brother of Aquino's secretary of trade and industry, and Roy Navarro, head of the nation's leading accounting firm, are attacking him only because they have been unable to "get some things past" the presidential palace.
Implying that the businessmen's proposals are corrupt, Arroyo told the Congress he was "naming names because it is important for our national security."
"When these insidious forces take advantage to seize economic power, that is treason of the highest order," the embattled Arroyo declared in a statement that Concepcion later said left him "shocked and speechless."
Concepcion said he has no idea what Arroyo was alleging, but he noted that most of the Philippines' power groups, from businessmen to leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, have called for Arroyo's ouster since the coup attempt, which left scores dead and hundreds injured.
Despite his call for renewed unity, Arroyo then attacked the country's armed forces, which have been badly divided by the failed coup. Several key military units refused to respond to Aquino's direct orders, Arroyo said. It was only the police that saved the Aquino government, Arroyo said, ignoring evidence that it was the Philippine marines who made the decisive moves to drive the rebel leaders into hiding.
In recent days, senior military officers who remained loyal during the Aug. 28 coup have sharply criticized Arroyo and Aquino's special counsel, Teodoro Locsin Jr., for their roles during and after the coup. If the two aides are not fired, many have said they may well join the rebel forces the next time.
Many key officers believe that Arroyo is secretly a Communist whose moves are calculated to destroy the armed forces, and the leaders of the most recent coup attempt have cited Arroyo most often in the past as the one government official who allegedly has favored the nation's 23,000 Communist rebels over the government's soldiers.
Arroyo's "Goebbels charge" against spokesman Isleta, he told the House, stemmed from just such an allegation.
"I called him the Goebbels of the armed forces (because) a Goebbels was a liar. He called me a Commie and I'm not a Commie. . . . I can never be a Communist because I stick to the constitution.
"If they're sore because I take the side of the poor, the marginalized and those who have no voice in the government . . . then I plead guilty to that charge.
"(But) we don't coddle anyone in this government. . . . There is no coddling of Communists."
In answering charges that he and Locsin have been shielding Aquino from the realities of her country, a charge that led many to dub the two aides the president's cordon sanitaire, Arroyo, if anything, confirmed the charge.